The 28th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP28) ended in Dubai with a lengthy agreement unanimously adopted by all parties calling for a transitioning away from fossil fuels and an acceleration of zero- and low-emission technologies. Although nuclear was included, it was mentioned just once in paragraph 28, sub-section (e) of the 197-paragraph text.

Paragraph 28 recognises the need for deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in line with 1.5 °C pathways and calls on Parties to contribute to the following global efforts taking into account the Paris Agreement and their different national circumstances, pathways and approaches:

  • Tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030;
  • (b) Accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power;
  • (c) Accelerating efforts globally towards net zero emission energy systems, utilising zero- and low-carbon fuels well before or by around mid-century;
  • (d) Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050 in keeping with the science;
  • (e) Accelerating zero- and low-emission technologies, including, inter alia, renewables, nuclear, abatement and removal technologies such as carbon capture and utilization and storage, particularly in hard-to-abate sectors, and low-carbon hydrogen production;
  • (f) Accelerating and substantially reducing non-carbon-dioxide emissions globally, including in particular methane emissions by 2030;
  • (g) Accelerating the reduction of emissions from road transport on a range of pathways, including through development of infrastructure and rapid deployment of zero and low-emission vehicles;
  • (h) Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions, as soon as possible.

“Whilst we didn’t turn the page on the fossil fuel era in Dubai, this outcome is the beginning of the end,” said UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell in his closing speech. “Now all governments and businesses need to turn these pledges into real-economy outcomes, without delay.”

The World Nuclear Association (WNA) said this was the first time nuclear energy had been formally specified as one of the solutions to climate change in a COP agreement. “This marks a 180° turn-around in the treatment of nuclear energy in the COP process, from the lone technology excluded from the Kyoto Protocol mechanisms to COP28’s inclusion among a range of zero and low-emissions technologies,” said WNA Director General Sama Bilbao y León.

Although nuclear clearly did not figure at all prominently in the final declaration, it was the subject of a number of key events and statements during the 12-day conference. Some 24 countries backed a Ministerial Declaration calling for the tripling of global nuclear energy capacity by 2050. The heads of state, or senior officials, from Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Ghana, Hungary, Japan, South Korea, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Ukraine, the UAE, the UK and the USA signed that declaration on 2 December, with Armenia and Croatia adding their signatures later.

The declaration says the countries recognise the need for a tripling of nuclear energy capacity to achieve “global net-zero greenhouse gas/carbon neutrality by or around mid-century and in keeping a 1.5°C limit on temperature rise within reach”. It also recognises that “new nuclear technologies could occupy a small land footprint and can be sited where needed, partner well with renewable energy sources and have additional flexibilities that support decarbonisation beyond the power sector, including hard-to-abate industrial sectors”.

Subsequently, the Net Zero Nuclear Industry Pledge committed to at least tripling nuclear capacity by 2050. Companies from more than 140 countries signed up to the pledge, committing to support the same expansion of nuclear energy as the governments that backed the Ministerial Declaration. “We established the Net Zero Nuclear initiative this year to give the global nuclear industry a more visible presence at COP, uniting pragmatic action from governments, industry and civil society,” said Bilbao y León. “With governments agreeing that nuclear energy is part of the solution, and with the coalition of ambitious governments setting a clear tripling goal for nuclear capacity, it is now time to move on from pledges and goals to delivering the rapid acceleration in global nuclear capacity needed to achieve net-zero.”

During COP28, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) hosted and participated in around 50 events, including to deliver a landmark statement that “Net zero needs nuclear power”, officially announce the first-ever Nuclear Energy Summit, and launch a new climate adaptation project.